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Recce to Minh Hoa
 
On the 31st of March, Howard, Adam, and an ailing Ian, set off with our interpreter Hoan and two jeeps to explore the limestone of Minh Hoa to the North and West of Bo Trach.
 
Off we set in convoy on the hottest day of the expedition so far; 34 degrees in the shade, on a cloudless, shadeless, gradually deteriorating road towards the Lao border. Intending to start as close as possible to the frontier and recce on the way back.
 
Stopping for dinner at a roadside café, fried noodles and meat were washed down with White Horses and Red Bulls. Enquiring of the source of the adjacent river we were told it came from a cave, of which more later, it being too late to commence a guideless walk, in the heat of the day.
 
An hour later and we were back in limestone country and the road had degenerated to a highway; under construction. We saw on the other side of the river a reasonable sized entrance worthy of investigation, which probably took a large river in the wet season and considerably swelled the aforementioned river. Entrance duly noted, and photographed we continued.
 
So we arrived at a village to enquire about local caves and local lodgings, unfortunately there were no caves in the area - that were not of tactical significance. After tea and fruitless negotiations we began the long drive out of limestone, and back into limestone at a greater distance from the border.
 
When we reached the village of Ya Phong we pulled over to ask a man, “are there any caves around here?” So, we went to see his friend, and then his friend’s son, to ask the same question and the; size, wind, water, supplementaries. Luckily enough, the son; knew of caves; with water; and wind; and bigger than his house; and he was the chief of police. We asked for permission to explore them, and he left on his moped to gather all the other authority figures of the village, to get the quadruplicate permission required. A while later, we had permission; and a place to stay, the police chiefs house; and a guide, the police chief.
 
The following morning we had breakfast and set off for the 2km walk to the cave across, fences, fields, hedges, rice paddies, streams, and tracks to arrive 5km later at a cave that we could have driven to within 500m of. Then teetered along the sides of the irrigation channel, over the greasy pipe, and the slippery verdant boulders at the entrance to a pleasant beach, and small dam. Here we donned wetsuits as protection against the many dangerous buggers, that; we had been warned, awaited us on this ‘tell lies’ day. Not wishing to have to do the return walk, we thanked the guide and the interpreter and told them to ask the drivers to wait for us as close to the cave as possible between midday and 4pm.
 
Off we set surveying and exploring, wading and swimming, along a high passage, to a beach where an inlet on the right issued from a boulder choke. A break here to allow the sketch to catch up with the speeding tape.
A swim across a pool entered a narrow swimming rift and climb, into a boulder strewn passage, with connections back to the pool, and then to a desperate climb into daylight. While waiting for Ian to explore the riverbed upstream, Adam and Howard explored some delightful Mendip rifts providing a slightly less elegant but considerably safer way to exit the cave
.
We followed the dry streambed through a few sawmills for 500m to where the water sank in the true right bank. Then another 500m to a junction with a large pool and water entering on the true left and a dry streambed on the true right, this we followed for 150m to a large dry entrance intersecting a stream. Right descended to a sump and straight on
enlarged until finally emerging again into daylight. Photographing on the return, showed up what are torches could not see. Some side passages explored and un-surveyed may provide extensions in the future.
 
So a race began to make it back for 4pm, we made it; to tyre tracks, and a long walk in wetsuit and wellies, with two 500m caves, Thuy Van and Ma Nghi, some outstanding leads and some good photos. We did however beat the jeep which had broken down on the way.
 
After a second night we left to recce the limestone further west, finding only; an ex-military cave, Hang Hob, with an incredible roof; and a village deserted to make way for an open prison. We found no more men familiar with the jungle of the limestone massif. Hence, no more caves, but a proven potential for the future.
 

Adam Spillane

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